Libyan Rivals Agree on Leadership to Govern Until Elections

Libyan rivals on Friday agreed on a new interim leadership to govern the conflict-hit OPEC member until elections set for December, advancing a United Nations-mediated peace process that still faces major challenges.

Delegates at a UN-backed meeting near Geneva elected a slate of candidates led by Misrata-based politician and businessman Mohammed Dbeibah and Mohammad Younes Menfi.

Dbeibah will become prime minister, while Menfi will head the three-member executive Presidency Council. They defeated a rival list led by powerful security chief of the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, Fathi Bashagha, and the head of the eastern-based parliament Aguila Saleh.

UN acting envoy to Libya Stephanie Williams said Dbeibah’s list secured 39 of 73 valid votes to 34 for Bashagha’s slate.

Tight Timeframe

The new leadership will have to drag the country toward parliamentary elections on Dec. 24, and convince all Libyans that they are represented politically after a decade of upheaval and division. At least 30% of cabinet jobs must be awarded to women.

Williams commended the vote as a fulfillment of “commitments towards constituencies” and said the international community will support the interim leadership. But she repeatedly urged the new leaders to scrupulously respect deadlines they have agreed to, including swearing in by parliament of a new government within 42 days.

The North African country has been fractured since a NATO-backed uprising ousted dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011, unleashing successive conflicts.

Fighting in recent years has pitted the internationally recognized Tripoli-based government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj against eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar, both of whom have received support from competing regional powers turning Libya’s war into a proxy battle.

Oil

Forming a unified government could stabilize Libya’s oil output, which was hit by blockades last year that cut the flow to almost nothing before it rebounded to more than 1 million barrels a day as peace efforts progressed.

The interim administration stands out for “not having any controversial figures” but faces significant challenges, said Hafed Al Ghwell, senior fellow with the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

Libyan factions made big promises that might “require much longer time than a 10-month time frame” to deliver, Ghwell said in an email. “There is a lot of skepticism about the issue of elections. The best they can do is to calm things down.”

Libya’s main trading partner, the European Union, pledged to fully support the elected government. “This is already an impressive exercise in transparency, compromise, and commitment to national unity and reconciliation,” Jose Antonio Sabadell, the EU’s envoy to Tripoli, tweeted before the vote began. “Historic day for Libya!”

Attention will now turn to whether the new leaders retain central bank governor Sadiq Al-Kabir and Mustafa Sanalla, the head of the National Oil Co., in their posts.

Disputes over how oil income is divided are also hindering efforts to repair fields, storage tanks and pipelines damaged or neglected during the conflict. NOC had to shut a major pipeline because of leaks and warned that other installations may suffer the same fate unless politicians give the company more funds.

The political talks are part of a broader peace-making push that includes military and economic tracks. The initial proposals for the government selection mechanism were made by an advisory committee of Libyan regional representatives involved in the Geneva talks.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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